After I Dream uses the investigation of a crime to frame a romance, but -- make no mistake -- relationships, not the mystery, are what this story is about. Well-written, with fully adult characters and a strong sense of place, After I Dream is a highly satisfactory read.
At 35 Chase Mattingly is a former SEAL who has worked as a salvage diver for the past eight years. Crippled physically and emotionally by his last dive, he has come to his isolated vacation home on the Florida Keys to recover from the effects of the bends and to face his fears.
Chase can remember little of the events surrounding that dive -- traumatic amnesia, his doctors say -- only the hallucinations that had him trying to tear his diving helmet off in order to escape the malign shadows pursuing him. The hallucinations are still torturing him. He is terrified of the dark and seriously considering suicide.
His next door neighbor, Calypso Carlson, has her own demons. Her mother died when she was fourteen and her brother, Jeff, was six. Their father was a commercial fisherman and was often gone for weeks at a time, leaving Callie to raise Jeff and manage the household. Ten years later, their father died too, washed overboard while away on a six-week shrimping voyage.
Callie has drawn two conclusions from these experiences. First, she fears the sea and superstitiously believes that it is trying to take everyone she loves. Secondly, she feels that she cannot rely on men to stick around when the going gets tough…in tough times, men desert her for her enemy, the sea. As a psychologist, she knows intellectually that her feelings are irrational, but emotionally she is convinced of their truth.
Right now the man giving Callie serious problems is her brother. Out fishing on a stormy day, Jeff and his friend, Eric, find and salvage a scuttled boat. The boat seems like a gift from heaven to the boys, a jump start to the deep sea fishing business they dream of owning. When the Coast Guard search the boat, however, they find evidence that the owner of the boat and his crewman have been murdered. They arrest Jeff and Eric and charge them with the crime.
As the mother of grown sons, I empathized with the mixture of feelings Callie experienced when Jeff was charged…a frantic need to rescue him, a paradoxical anger at having to bail him out yet again, and frustration over Jeff's stubborn refusal to give up a life style that Callie sees as dangerous.
In fact, one of the strengths of After I Dream is the skill with which Lee handles her characters' fears and severe anxieties. Chase is drawn to Callie and believes he could be of help to her, but how useful can a man be if he has to be inside his house, with the doors locked and every light on, by the time it gets dark?
For her part, Callie is tired of shouldering alone the problems life hands her. Chase's strength and gentleness are appealing, but she fears that if he surmounts his considerable problems, he too will leave her and go back to the sea. Lee handles this couple's intricate dance of approach and retreat adroitly as Chase and Callie face their demons so that they can act on the attraction they both feel.
As a reader, I make conflicting demands of an author when it comes to the setting for a narrative. On one hand, I am disappointed if I close the book with no particular feeling for the narrative's backdrop. On the other hand, I am sorry to say that I sometimes skip over any large chunks of description. The sea is a strong presence in After I Dream, and Rachel Lee has managed to convey its many moods without ever breaking the flow of her narrative.
I am delighted to be able to recommend After I Dream whole-heartedly. I look forward to reading more of Rachel Lee's work.
--Nancy J. Silberstein